Giant Food Stores has promoted Sepideh Burkett to VP of store support from her previous role as a district director, effective immediately.
In her new role, Burkett will be responsible for bringing the grocer's strategic plans and customer-centric strategy to life across all stores, driving store performance and ensuring consistent communication between stores and support functions. She will report to John Ponnett, SVP of retail operations at Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant.
"A knowledgeable and passionate leader, Sepideh has made significant contributions to the success of our company, and we look forward to benefiting from her deep knowledge in her new role," Ponnett said. "Her team and customers always come first, and she truly leads by example with her can-do attitude, inspiring those around her."
Burkett, who previously oversaw Giant's stores in north central Pennsylvania, brings to her new role 25 years of experience in the drug store and grocery businesses. She joined Giant in 2016 as director of special projects following several leadership roles at Walmart, including market manager, regional health- and-wellness director, market health-and-wellness director and pharmacy manager. A licensed pharmacist, she has a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy from the University of Connecticut.
Earlier this week, Progressive Grocer had an opportunity to sit down with Burkett, who currently resides with her family in State College, Pa., to discuss everything from her background abroad and in the States to the growing – and long overdue – female representation at the executive level in the supermarket industry.
Progressive Grocer: You have a fascinating story about your background. Tell us about where you come from and your experiences growing up.
Sepideh Burkett: I was born in Iran. When I was 17, I moved to the U.S. by myself to start college, so I never finished high school.
College was a time of incredible growth. It was a challenging experience as I learned a new language, adjusted to being away from my family and friends, and adapted to a new culture. Looking back, the experience of finding my footing amid such dramatic and significant change proved to be an invaluable skill that would serve me throughout the rest of my professional journey.
Progressive Grocer: Tell us about your family and education.
Burkett: I am the oldest of three children. Growing up, my parents emphasized the value of education to my brothers and me above all else. My mother, who had earned her Ph.D. in pharmacology, made it a point to let her only daughter know that the expectation was no less for her. To follow in her footsteps, I studied pharmacy and became a licensed pharmacist.
Progressive Grocer: Talk about your entry into the grocery business: What about it attracted you so much?
Burkett: I spent several years working as pharmacist and was always interested in the business underpinnings of my work as well as patient care. As I took on leadership roles within the health-and-wellness industry, I continued to see retail operations as a space with enormous potential to make change – a place where ideas can come to life. Ideas and a great deal of effort can build something that supports our communities and our employees – something we can be proud of.
Here at Giant, I have found the greatest of those fulfillments. Rarely have I been part of a community who so clearly understands their responsibility and impact as my family at Giant does. We are aware and proud that we connect people through food, that we are a part of that family meal that our communities gather around.
Progressive Grocer: Today, the supermarket industry is seeing much stronger female representation at higher levels. How have you witnessed this transition throughout your career thus far?
Burkett: To be honest, I have experienced a range of cultural mindsets, and not all have valued inclusivity. But over the span of my career, I have witnessed a steady and consistent change that, at its best, is able to embrace various styles and ideas. We are moving towards a more inclusive and collaborative culture that not only allows, but looks for and values, input from all walks of life and thought.
Progressive Grocer: If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring supermarket executives based on your own life and career experiences, what would it be?
Burkett: I have learned a great deal over the years from women and men who took me under their wing and shared their wisdom with me. If I had to pick one thing to share, I would say fight hard to bring who you are and what you value to work. Be graceful and open-minded in your approach, but know that your unique perspective is the most valuable gift you give to your work community.
Progressive Grocer: Who is your role model, and what has made this person such an inspiration to you?
Burkett: I am fortunate enough to draw inspiration from many who have shaped what I admire in people. I am grateful to my parents who taught me about courage and generosity. It was from them that I understood that the word is a safe place filled with opportunity, that I just had to step into it and bring my best.
I admire my children and my husband for inspiring me to continue to be a better person. I am inspired by our company president at Giant, Nick Bertram. He is inspiring not only because of what he says, but because he has the unique ability to bring us along in this dynamic, powerful and purpose-filled journey, and share his vision with us.
Progressive Grocer: What is your favorite book/film/album, and why does it mean so much to you?
Burkett: I enjoy books that extend my perspective and expand my understanding. I read journals that help me understand the current and new thought processes around my work.
I also like memoirs and literary journalism. I recently read Joan Didion’s "Slouching Towards Bethlehem." Additionally, I grew up with poetry and find wisdom and beauty in works of Rumi.
Progressive Grocer: What are your favorite activities to do during your time off work?
Burkett: I write poetry. Treasure every minute that I get to spend with my children and my husband. I enjoy cooking for my family and friends. Time shared with loved ones around a home-cooked meal creates my best memories.
Giant operates more than 170 stores under the Giant and Martin’s Food Markets banners in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, employing nearly 30,000 associates, and offers grocery delivery via Peapod by Giant. The chain’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize USA, is No. 4 on Progressive Grocer’s 2018 Super 50 list of the top grocers in the United States.